New Matildas boss Ante Milicic would have had some sleepless nights before his first day in the job, considering Football Federation Australia’s controversial termination of his predecessor Alen Stajcic.
However, the restlessness would not have been about the talent at his disposal or the platform built by the former coach.
In normal circumstances, the vacant Matildas coaching position would have been one of the most coveted coaching opportunities in world football; a talented team and prestige brand ready to shine at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France and deliver on what is undoubtedly immense potential.
“We’ve exchanged text messages…very professional relationship between the both of us”
— FOX SPORTS News (@FOXSportsNews) February 20, 2019
The fallout surrounding the termination of Stajcic in the past month has cast a dark shadow over team harmony and rumoured player divisions.
Speak to those in and around the team and nothing could be further from the truth. The team is motivated, the leaders have a shared journey crafting out a career from the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States, our own W-League and increasing national team responsibilities.
Managing commitments across this elite football environment is not for the faint-hearted.
This is a hardened group that oozes class and is not afraid to speak out behind closed doors to improve and challenge each other.
Regardless of what you make of the Stajcic dismissal, make no mistake the Matildas are a resilient and proud group that will move on and embrace Milicic.
There’s a success checklist Milicic needs to keep in his pocket and constantly refer to in the lead up to the World Cup in France.
These are the eight things he needs to achieve:
- Reinforce to players nothing is guaranteed: Milicic is an outsider to the close-knit elite women’s football community. The oil on Milicic is he is calm, highly professional, hard working and considered. Use these attributes to motivate the experienced players and ignite young talent. What better way to drive improvement and development by letting everybody know all bets are off and spots are up for grabs? It is a fresh start.
- Multiple forward combinations: One of the criticisms levelled at Stajcic was the lack of goals. Milicic knows to be successful at the World Cup the Matildas need forward rotational depth as games come thick and fast. Fine-tuned forward combinations need to be ready to go. The good news is Australia’s talent pool of Sam Kerr, Hayley Raso, Lisa De Vanna, Emily Gielnik, Chloe Logarzo, Caitlin Foord, Kyah Simon, Princess Ibini, Michelle Heyman, maybe Allira Toby (yes I said it) and even Mary Fowler (if she can be won back) is endless. It is a talent pool every other countries envy and getting the right combinations primed to see us into the pointy end of 2019 France will be fascinating to watch.
- Embrace the love #GoMatildas: The Matildas are without doubt a brand that unites the nation. Recent achievements, supported by the rise in FIFA rankings, have ensured the Matildas reach beyond the traditional women’s football community. Embrace the love, engage with fans, and use it to motivate the team.
- Injuries (no compromises): The Matildas have been showing signs of wear and tear. Steph Catley, Kyah Simon, Katrina Gorry, De Vanna, Raso, Foord, Amy Sayer, Larissa Crummer, Chloe Logarzo and Amy Harrison have all had or still have problems to overcome. Be ruthless here. Only 100 per cent fit players can make the final squad. The World Cup schedule is brutal and Australia will need to rely on the whole squad to lift the trophy.
- Steely Defence: The defensive group will have to carry a big workload in France. Successful World Cup teams rely on goalkeepers and defenders playing huge minutes allowing for important substitutions (player rotation) to be saved for midfielders and forwards. Lydia Williams, Catley, Clare Polkinghorne, Alanna Kennedy, Laura Alleway, Ellie Carpenter, Jenna McCormick and Abbey Green (yes I have said it again) need to be physically capable of playing every game. Remind them that Australia’s success relies on them being ready to go, every day and every match.
- Ban Twitter: Make sure every player, backroom staff member and administrator ditch their Twitter accounts. The vile cesspit that is #sokahtwitter is full of faceless burner accounts that, on the surface, seem only interested in tearing the game down and/or driving division via promoting rumour and innuendo.
- Midfield courage: Remind our midfield group that we play the Australian way. We take the game on and cover for our mates. The best of attack and defence. Encourage creativity from Tameka Butt, Gorry, Emily van Egmond, Alex Chidiac with Elise Kellond-Knight and Aivi Luik steadying the ship.
- Enjoy the ride: There is nothing better in world sport than the atmosphere that is generated at a FIFA World Cup. This is a moment in time for Australian women’s football to shine. The Matildas have the talent, mentality and motivation to deliver. Embrace the journey, take on the world and beat them.
Cup Of Nations Tournament
Match day one
Date: Thursday, February 28
Venue: Jubilee Stadium, Kogarah (Sydney), New South Wales
Match one: Argentina v Korea Republic – 4.35pm kick-off (AEDT)
Match two: Westfield Matildas v New Zealand – 7.30pm kick-off (AEDT)
Match day two
Date: Sunday, March 3
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Queensland
Match one: Argentina v New Zealand – 3.05pm kick-off (AEST); 4.05pm (AEDT)
Match two: Westfield Matildas v Korea Republic – 6pm kick-off (AEST); 7pm (AEDT)
Match day three
Date: Wednesday, March 6
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne, Victoria
Match one: Korea Republic v New Zealand – 3.05pm kick-off (AEDT)
Match two: Westfield Matildas v Argentina – 6pm kick-off (AEDT)